November 2018

Boomers Find Reasons to Retire Later

It is one of “the most significant labor market trends” in the United States, says Wellesley College researcher Courtney Coile.

Bar graph showing the average retirement ages for men and womenShe’s referring to big increases since the 1980s and 1990s in the share of older Americans in the labor force, including one in three men in their late 60s.

As for women, the baby boomers were really the first generation to thoroughly embrace full-time employment. Older women’s participation in the labor force hasn’t quite caught up with their male coworkers, but they’ve made impressive strides since the 1980s and have rapidly closed the retirement-age gap.

Given the implications of this trend for retirement security – the longer people work, the better off they’ll be – Coile and many other researchers have investigated what’s driving it. They agree on several things that are changing the retirement calculation.

College. College graduation rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades, and people who’ve spent at least some time in college tend to remain in their jobs longer. This trend has played a big role in the increase in baby boomers’ participation in the labor force, Coile said.

Social Security. Three major reforms to the program have boosted U.S. retirement ages. A 1983 reform is slowly increasing the age at which workers are eligible to receive their full benefits, from 65 for past generations to 67 for workers who were born after 1959. This amounts to a significant benefit cut at any given age that a retiree claims his benefits. Various studies show that this has created an incentive to delay signing up for Social Security in order to increase the size of the monthly benefit checks.

The 1983 legislation also played a role in pulling up the average retirement age by providing larger monthly benefit increases for people who delay Social Security beyond their full retirement age. In 2000, a third reform ended the temporary withholding of some benefits that had been in place for people in their late 60s who worked while simultaneously collecting Social Security.

Employer retirement plans. Two employer benefits that encourage people to retire at relatively young ages have largely gone by the wayside in the private sector. …Learn More

Senior Housing Shortage is Getting Worse

Nearly 10 million seniors are having difficulty paying for housing – and the problem is growing.

Housing experts typically recommend that people keep their housing costs below a third of their income. But one in three Americans over age 65 are spending more than that on their rent or  mortgage payment, utilities, property insurance, maintenance, and other housing costs, according to a new study, “Housing America’s Older Adults,” by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

costburdensover65If the senior housing problem hasn’t reached crisis proportions yet, Jennifer Molinsky, who wrote the center’s report, predicted that it will if nothing is done to increase the supply of housing structures that are both affordable and age-friendly to meet the needs of aging baby boomers. The number of households over 80 will more than double over the next 20 years, the housing center estimates.

“Unless we create more options for people at the middle- and lower-income levels, we are going to be seeing that people have fewer choices and that they’re forced into options they don’t want,” she said. …Learn More

Pumpkins

Holiday is Time to Recognize Our Readers

It’s the time of year to appreciate our readers. Thank you for supporting our blog on Twitter and Facebook too.

Squared Away, a retirement and personal finance blog, is sponsored by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.  To stay current on our latest blog posts, sign up for our free, weekly email alert with links to that week’s two blog posts.

Have a lovely holiday. …Learn More

Group of young professionals

Workshops Teach Salary Negotiation

At a recent workshop in downtown Boston, the mostly female audience was asked whether their anxiety level goes up when they ask for a raise or negotiate a salary for a new job.

Hands shot up, and the room erupted in boisterous conversation. “I’m worried about being perceived as being greedy,” volunteered one woman. Another said that her employer told her she earns less than her coworkers because she’s only in her 20s – “even though I’m doing exactly the same things!”

Workshop facilitator Lauren Creamer explained that many women find it difficult to ask for a raise, because they face a double standard that treats them differently than men. “Women are expected to behave a certain way. They’re either nice or competitive and aggressive,” she said. Asking for a raise can be perceived as too aggressive.

Over a lifetime, lower pay for the same jobs their male coworkers are doing put millions of women behind the 8 ball when they’re trying to pay back student loans, buy a house, and save for retirement.

To help them overcome their fear of asking for a raise, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is introducing salary negotiation workshops around the country. “Pay equity – and financial security – is one of our major goals right now,” said AAUW’s Alexandra Howley, who coordinates the Massachusetts program with the Boston mayor’s office and the state government.

In AAUW’s workshop in Boston last month, Creamer and Robbin Beauchamp gave advice in four areas to the women – and three men – attending.

Know Your Value

  • Before negotiating a raise, be clear on the unique benefits you bring to your workplace – effective facilitator, top salesperson, organizer, etc.
  • When applying for a new position, tailor your skills and experience to fit the job description in a way that highlights your value to a prospective employer.

Know Your Target SalaryLearn More

2 heads in illustration

Why Couples Retire Together – or Don’t

Married couples don’t necessarily know what the other spouse is thinking about retirement.

This insight came out of a new Fidelity Investments survey that asked some 1,600 people if they knew when their significant other planned to retire. Only 43 percent answered the question correctly. This disconnect reveals just how few couples are talking about retirement, said Fidelity spokesman Ted Mitchell, who worked on the survey.

Fidelity’s survey went out to adults of all ages, so the younger ones no doubt felt they’re too young to be thinking – much less talking – about what their lives will be like decades from now.

But things change as couples age. When retirement comes into sharper focus, it’s natural to start talking through the options – mine, yours, and ours.

One option is to retire around the same time, and prior research has shown that roughly half of older couples do so.

New research takes a more nuanced look at how couples retire and finds a more complicated picture.  Mixed arrangements are common in the pre-retirement years. Perhaps one spouse continues working full-time, even though their partner has retired, or one spouse might shift down to part-time work while the other is either still in a full-time job or has already retired.

Two sentiments are usually in conflict when older workers are trying to decide whether to retire: a longing for more leisure time and a need to bank more in savings, Social Security, and pensions.

Spouses often influence one another’s retirements for a variety of reasons, including their health, their relative ages, and how much each one likes their job. But financial security is usually a major consideration. …Learn More

Illustration of a city skyline

Millennial Cities and Those Left Behind

Sumat Lam, a recent college graduate, was skeptical when his Silicon Valley employer transferred him to Austin, Texas. What he found was a high-tech mecca that defies the stereotypes of 10-gallon hats and Southern drawls.

Google, Apple and Amazon have established outposts in the “Silicon Hills” of Texas’ Hill Country. The young workers moving there are “bringing in their culture and influences from Boston and New York,” Lam told VOA News.

Taylor Hardy lives in Dayton, Ohio, but she might as well be living on a different planet.

This young nursing assistant can barely eke out a living. Her plight is shared by too many others in this former industrial hub that has been in a downward spiral that accelerated after plant closings by National Cash Register and General Motors during the last recession. The loss of high-quality blue-collar jobs contributes to Dayton’s 35 percent poverty rate – nearly three times the national rate.

Table of city rankingHardy, a single mother, and the boyfriend who lives with her, earn a total of $27,000 a year – she has $5 in her bank account. “I work all these hours, and I miss all the time with my kids to make … nothing,” she said in the PBS Frontline documentary “Left Behind America.”

The contrasting fortunes in these two cities – Austin versus Dayton – are playing out around the country. Young professionals are streaming into Millennial boomtowns from San Francisco to Boston, where growth seems almost unstoppable. But outside these hot spots are struggling Midwestern and Northeastern cities that have become deserts, devoid of opportunity for their young adult residents.

“Historically, many young American adults have left their hometowns to chase better opportunities,” said Kali McFadden, senior analyst at Magnify Money. “But not all millennials have the same work opportunities,” she said about her firm’s new city ranking of the employment available to young workers. …Learn More

Woman looking at mountains

A Proposal to Reduce Widows’ Poverty

A dramatic decline in widow’s poverty over a quarter century has been a positive outcome of more women going to college and moving into the labor force.

Bar graph showing percentage of povertyYet 15 percent of widows are still poor – three times the poverty rate for married women.

A new study by the Center for Retirement Research takes a fresh look at Social Security’s widow benefits and finds that increasing them “could be a well-targeted way” to further reduce poverty.

Widows are vulnerable to being poor for several reasons. The main reason is that the income coming into a household declines when the husband dies.  The number of Social Security checks drops from two to one, and any employer pension the husband received is reduced, or even eliminated if the couple didn’t opt for the pension’s joint-and-survivor annuity.

While one person can live more cheaply than two, the drop in income for new widows often isn’t accompanied by a commensurate drop in expenses.

Another issue begins to develop as much as 10 years before a husband dies. Prior to his death, his declining health may increase the couple’s medical expenses and reduce his ability to work, depleting the couple’s – and ultimately the widow’s – resources.

The irony today for wives who worked is that their decades in the labor force generally improve their financial prospects when they become widowed. Yet, under Social Security’s longstanding design, they receive less generous benefits than housewives – relative to the household’s benefits prior to the husband’s death. …Learn More

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